United States: The Role of Military Forces in the Growth of the Commercial Sex Industry

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1 Mar 2006

A major step towards the establishment of a zero-tolerance policy with respect to solicitation of prostitution by U.S. military personnel was taken on 14 October 2005, when U.S. President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13387, which amends the Manual for Courts-Martial to specifically enumerate “patronizing a prostitute” as a violation of Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). U.S. military personnel will have committed an offense if they “compelled, induced, enticed, or procured [a] person to engage in an act of sexual intercourse in exchange for monetary or other compensation.” The act must also be “wrongful” and be “to the prejudice of good order and discipline” of the armed forces or “bring discredit upon” them. A violation is punishable by “dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 1 year.”

In June 2003, Equality Now issued Women’s Action 23.1 advocating the establishment and enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy on the solicitation of prostitution to U.S. military personnel, noting the link recognized by the U.S. Government between sex trafficking and the demand for prostitution. Equality Now cited the participation of U.S. military forces stationed in South Korea in the commercial sex industry as a case study of what is happening around the world.  According to a Fox TV undercover report, American Courtesy Patrol Officers, members of the United States military, facilitated access by military personnel to numerous bars where trafficked women from the Philippines, Russia and elsewhere, were being sold for prostitution to United States servicemen.  Courtesy Patrol Officers knew that women in these establishments had been trafficked and they were familiar with the process by which club owners obtained these women and kept them to sell for commercial sex.

At the request of thirteen Members of Congress, the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Defense initiated a global assessment of U.S. military activities that promote and facilitate sex trafficking. The assessment was conducted in two phases, first in South Korea and then in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. In South Korea, Courtesy Patrols who engaged in off-installation policing were reported to be “overly familiar” and friendly with patrons and employees of off-installation bars and clubs, rather than behaving as officials on duty.  The Department of Defense interpreted such behavior to denote “official imprimatur to activities in the clubs,” at the same time finding that “law enforcement personnel might find nothing to report if a service member paid a ‘bar-fine’ assessed against a woman and left the club with her for an evening.” The report on Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo found that, “Because there is no military standard that directly addresses patronization of prostitutes and other activities associated with human trafficking, criminal prosecution of these activities under military law is rendered more difficult. We believe that correcting these weaknesses is consistent with the ‘abolitionist approach to trafficking in persons’ or zero-tolerance policy with respect to U.S. government employees and contractor personnel stationed abroad who engage in trafficking in persons set forth in the 2003 National Security Presidential Directive 22, which further states, ‘the United States Government opposes prostitution and any related activities’.”

In January 2004, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum reaffirming the zero-tolerance policy with respect to trafficking. The memorandum states that the Department of Defense “opposes prostitution and any related activities that may contribute to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons as inherently harmful and dehumanizing.” In September 2004, General LaPorte, the Commander of U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK) testified before the Joint House Armed Services Committee as to their efforts in administering “a zero tolerance approach to prostitution and human trafficking.” According to General LaPorte, since January 2003, USFK had ordered disciplinary action of five servicemen for soliciting (or patronizing) prostitution, and prosecuted 398 servicemen for related offenses such as violating curfew and trespassing in off-limit establishments. Further details are not known as the U.S. military has not responded to repeated inquiries from Equality Now regarding any disciplinary action taken against U.S. military personnel involving solicitation of prostitution. In the meantime, U.S. soldiers are still using women in prostitution in South Korea. A Filipina bar worker recently won a judgment against a South Korean nightclub owner for forcing her to have sex with U.S. soldiers, as reported in Stars and Stripes, a U.S. military newspaper. The failure of the U.S. military effectively to enforce the law has been corroborated by women’s organizations in South Korea.

After much work by Korean non-governmental organizations such as Korea Women’s Associations United (KWAU), the South Korean government has taken significant measures to combat trafficking and prostitution, enacting the 2004 Act on the Punishment of Procuring Prostitution and Associated Acts and the 2004 Act on the Prevention of Prostitution and Protection of its Victims Thereof. The former calls for strict sanctions for trafficking and procuring prostitution and the latter authorizes the establishment of assistance facilities and counseling centers with an infrastructure of social, legal and medical support for victims. Under the new legislation, victims of prostitution are defined as persons who are subject to various forms of coercion, including through drugs and debt, to sell sex. Victims of prostitution are not subject to punishment. Rather they are eligible for the assistance and counseling provided for in the law. In the year since the enactment of these new laws in September 2004, the number of commercial sex establishments has decreased by 36.8%, according to figures provided by the Korean National Police Agency.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to U.S. President George W. Bush, welcoming Executive Order 13387 specifically enumerating “patronizing a prostitute” as a violation of Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Urge the President and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to strictly enforce this provision, noting that patronizing prostitution feeds the global demand for sex trafficking and noting reports that the law is not being effectively enforced. Urge President Bush and Defense Secretary Gates to institute a zero-tolerance policy on the solicitation of prostitution by U.S. military forces around the world.

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
United States of America
Fax: +1 202-456-2461
E-mail: president@whitehouse.gov

Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
United States of America
Fax: +1 703-697-8339

Please also write to South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun and Minister of Justice Chung Soung-jin, thanking them for the efforts to create a new legal framework that recognizes and protects victims of prostitution while holding those who exploit them accountable.  Urge them to ensure that the new laws are strictly enforced.

President Roh Moo-Hyun
Office of the President—Cheong Wa Dae
1 Jongno-gu
110-050 Seoul
Republic of Korea
Fax: +82 2-770-0344
E-mail: webmaster@president.go.kr

Minister Chung Soung-jin
Ministry of Justice
Building #1
Gwacheon Government Complex
Jungang-dong 1, Gwacheon-si, Kyunggi-do
Republic of Korea
Fax: +82 2-503-1641
E-mail: webmaster@moj.go.kr